Writer Frank Cottrell-Boyce returns to pen another below par attempt at a Doctor Who episode. Cottrell-Boyce’s most recent other creation in Doctor Who was In the Forest of the Night during Series 8, which was quickly regarded as one of the worst episodes ever made. However I tried to keep my pessimism at an all-time low coming into Smile. I hoped that Cottrell-Boyce has learnt his lesson and that his writing wouldn’t ruin a promising looking Series 10. Thankfully, it certainly didn’t ruin the new series for me, but predictably Smile failed to hit many high points at all.
But let’s start with some positives. Overall the set piece for Smile is gorgeous and the visual direction of the episode never fails to impress the eye. The episode present an optimistic vision for the future by giving us gleaming white locations and fun servant robots. A Utopian vision that uses a real Earth location, the City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia. But as always, there’s an evil snake lurking around the corner in the Garden of Eden.
Surprisingly this comes in the form of the Emojibots alongside the Vardies. The Emojibots are design perfection in my opinion and would fit any kind of fun Sci-Fi wonderfully. Moreover they feel like an impressive design straight out of 1960’s Doctor Who, this seems to be a big theme in Series 10. The Emojibots link with the Vardies which can form solid mass in the architecture of the human colonist base. They can also drop a human and reduce them down to bones, as our faith in technology continues to drop ever faster.
Regularly Doctor Who begins by showing us the new threat/ monster of the week in a typical format, then rolls the dramatically bombastic opening credits. However this time over the episode could have benefited massively by not immediately showing the Emojibots to be such threat. Letting the audience play out what’s happening in our minds, while having as much wonder as Bill and the Doctor would have been far more effective. The pacing of the episode lends itself to this. At the start we see the Doctor and Bill land in a mysterious new location in which all the humans have disappeared. This is not the first time Doctor Who has done this with episodes like Silence of the Library/ Forest of the Dead coming to mind. However this time around the mystery was not presented as effectively. Smile moves at the pacing of a two-part episode, but then has to cram in a conclusion at the last-minute.
The unusual pacing could have worked rather effectively, maybe focusing on the Doctor and Bill a little bit more. However it also suffers by lacking in many other humans. Any and all humans who do turn up in the end are just there to either be killed or be incredibly forgettable and pointless additions.
At times Peter Capaldi and Pearl Mackie tend to save the episode’s overall messiness, simply through how watchable they are. But even they can’t completely save how poor the pacing is, how unthreatening the threat is, and how anticlimactic Smile ends up being. I was bored and not at all invested for large chucks this week, and everything in the end felt very average. But as we tackle the frozen Thames next week, we can only hope it picks back up to the brilliance Series 10 is trying to promise us.
Final Score: Smile – 5/10
By Robert Anderson.